Georgia started war, Russia shared blame: report

13:49, October 01, 2009      

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Georgia started the military conflict in August 2008 with Russia, but as a result of Russian provocation, says a report of an international fact-finding mission released on Wednesday.

"The shelling of (South Ossetian capital) Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia, yet it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents," reads the report of the mission led by Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss diplomat.

The mission, based in Geneva, was backed by the European Union (EU).

The report says Georgia's use of force in South Ossetia was illegal. "There is the question of whether the use of force by Georgia in South Ossetia, beginning with the shelling of Tskhinvali during the night of 7/8 August 2008, was justifiable under international law. It was not," reads the report.

The use of force by Georgia against Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia also violated international law, it says.

"At least as far as the initial phase of the conflict is concerned, an additional legal question is whether the Georgian use of force against Russian peacekeeping forces on Georgian territory, i.e. in South Ossetia, might have been justified. Again the answer is in the negative.

"There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation. Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive on 7/8 August could not be substantiated by the mission. It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack, in spite of certain elements and equipment having been made readily available. "

Russia's initial use of force in Georgia, says the report, was legal. But Russia's subsequent military campaign deeper into Georgia proper was disproportionate.

"When considering the legality of Russian military force against Georgia, the answer needs to be differentiated. The Russian reaction to the Georgian attack can be divided into two phases: first, the immediate reaction in order to defend Russian peacekeepers, and second, the invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces reaching far beyond the administrative boundary of South Ossetia," says the report.

"In the first instance, there seems to be little doubt that if the Russian peacekeepers were attacked, Russia had the right to defend them using military means proportionate to the attack. Hence the Russian use of force for defensive purposes during the first phase of the conflict would be legal.

"On the second item, it must be ascertained whether the subsequent Russian military campaign deeper into Georgia was necessary and proportionate in terms of defensive action against the initial Georgian attack. Although it should be admitted that it is not easy to decide where the line must be drawn, it seems, however, that much of the Russian military action went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense."

The report says continued destruction which came after the cease-fire agreement was not justifiable by any means. "It follows from this that insofar as such extended Russian military action reaching out into Georgia was conducted in violation of international law, Georgian military forces were acting in legitimate self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter."

The report was presented to Georgia, Russia, the EU, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The mission released the report on its Swiss-based official website.

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